Chairman Stevens Delivers Keynote Address to the Internet Caucus

February 9, 2005

Internet Caucus: State of the Net Conference
Keynote Address
February 9, 2005
Washington, DC
Commerce Committee Chairman Senator Ted Stevens
Click here for an audio of Chairman Ted Stevens' Speech
Click here for an audio of Q&A following Chairman Ted Stevens' Speech

Text of Chairman Stevens' Speech:

Thank you very much, Conrad. It’s nice to be with you in the morning here. I’m glad to see so many people here and am pleased to have a chance to speak with you. We look forward to seeing some of you this afternoon in room 50 of the Dirksen Building to examine this technology.

Conrad’s right, I go back a long way on some of these computers and what not. It’s been a long, long way to get where we are today.

The Internet really has transformed the way we do business, communicate, and learn. And, as Conrad said, it’s changed the face of our State without any question.

I often think about how the world of communications has changed. When I was a freshman Senator and came down here in 1968, a call to my State was $5 a minute and we had an allowance for so many minutes. Obviously, it cost a lot less to call Delaware than Alaska. And, we could have only so many words on telegrams. I don’t know anyone who uses telegrams now. And, I do think we’re in a much different situation. My staff and I call home dozens and dozens of times a day and it costs us three to five cents a minute, as you know.

Advances in communications technology, in our State, have transformed the way we live. We have about 240 isolated villages in Alaska. When I came here there were no doctors and there were no health aides. There was only one phone for a series of villages. People went to that village to call and that phone was owned by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Today we have all sorts of communications. I’ve got one friend who is an Eskimo whaler and he loves to call me on his cell phone when he’s in his skin boat going out for whales off Point Barrow.

We have hooked up almost every village to tele-medicine and tele-eduction. And, we’re working on making the 9-1-1 system, as Conrad says, more effective, enabling people to not only send emergency messages, but to receive disaster alerts as well.

I can tell you a story of a pair of guys on two snow machines going across the snow near Mount McKinley National Park, who did not know there was a crevasse ahead of them. One of them went smack into the crevasse and got himself about 35 feet beneath the surface of the snow in this crevasse. He thought it was the end of the world and then he remembered he had a cell phone in his pocket and he dialed 9-1-1 and it just happened to be picked up and 20 minutes later a National Guard helicopter pulled him out of the crevasse. Now if you don’t think that is changing lives – that is really changing lives for people who know what they’ve got in their pocket.

Things we considered luxuries back when we did the ’96 Act, when we passed the Telecom Act, are necessities today in American life. When I was a kid I used to hear people talk about a chicken in every pot and a car in every garage. Today it’s an e-mail address, a blackberry, a wireless laptop. And, soon it will be a digital movie phone, Internet televisions, and devices that exist only in the great American imagination. We’ve come a long way from the time that Dick Tracy had a watch that would carry sound, not only sound, but would show an image of the person calling him. Those were dreams of kids in the 30s and they’re reality today.

The time has come to ensure that our communications laws keep pace with our communications advancements that we all know exist. I’m sure you’ve heard many times that the ’96 rewrite of telecommunications laws was the first in 60 years. We talked very little about the Internet then. I was one of the cosponsors and one of the conferees on that bill before it became law. And, now, less than 10 years after its passage, it’s obvious that it’s necessary to rewrite it or to amend it – we’re not sure exactly what we’re going to do. The Internet was in its infancy when that Act was written and, although we did talk of tumbling technology, and knew that the Internet would evolve and converge, we really did not discuss in that Conference, the specific technologies that you all will be discussing today. There are so many new ones, it’s hard to believe.

I believed then, and I believe now, that the Internet demands a flexible regulatory regime – regardless of the platform that’s used to provide it. And, it should not matter whether Internet is provided by cable, telephone DSL line, satellite, power line, or wireless device – all should be treated equally. To do otherwise, in our judgment would be arbitrary regulation.

In the 21st century communication environment, there are so many competing interests, all of which must be treated fairly. There cannot be a multiple, separate set of regulations for everything dealing with communications. That would stifle emerging technology. We believe we need to recognize that there are issues that state and local governments are adequately suited to address.

I believe, for instance, that issues such as service quality and consumer protection will be best dealt with locally. It’s just my opinion, but I think if someone turns off my blackberry without notice or charges me more than I have agreed to pay for a service to my own home, I should not have to run to the FCC in Washington, D.C. to try and resolve the dispute. There should be some local involvement and state involvement, in the communications policy of the United States.

Balancing these and other issues will be a very tough task. And, as Conrad said, I’m fortunate enough to Co-Chair the Commerce Committee with a man who is so close that we call each other brother. We have worked together now for a long time. We are both from the World War II generation and we, I believe, have developed the same philosophy as we’ve worked here in the Congress so that we work together in a bipartisan was. And, I think that’s very important when it comes to working with this Committee of ours. This is not a Committee that should deal with politics. It should deal with issues and solutions and we intend to do that. We will work with our colleagues and listen to testimony from people around the country before we commit to a specific plan of action on any issue.

As we review the nation’s communications laws, Senator Inouye and I will not start by putting pen to paper, but by asking questions – questions of our staffs, questions of almost everyone we meet. So, let me tell you some of the questions that we want to ask:

What can we do to remove barriers to entry for new technologies?

What can we do to provide certainty and promote capital investment in new technology?

How can we enable the Internet to improve lives and keep America competitive in the global marketplace?

Are our anti-spam laws working, or is there more we could do and should do?

Should states be permitted to tax phone service that is provided over the Internet, or should we make the tax moratorium that the last Congress approved permanent?

When it comes to spyware, how can we satisfy Americans’ need for privacy with the need for innovation and growth in the e-business community?

Should Voice-Over IP be free of regulation, or should it pay into the Universal Service Fund?

In this age of global terrorism, how can we best address law enforcement’s needs in the new VOIP environment?

Should telephone companies be required to acquire a cable franchise if they provide video movies and shows that compete with cable?

Should we protect movie producers, musicians, and other artists from piracy, or should we allow all material to be exchanged freely over the Internet even if some of it was stolen?

The Internet has an immense impact on our world, and the impact on new communications laws could be more profound than those of the past.

In our efforts, Dan and I will be guided by our commitment to do what is right for the American consumer and innovator.

We are unconcerned about old battles – and, we’ve been through a lot of them. We need new ways to think about these new issues. And, these new issues really do require us to think before we act and to listen before we do anything at all.

We hope to move away from a paradigm that puts each issue or technology into its “proper” regulatory box. Instead, our emphasis will be on convergence and how to foster continued creativity and continued innovation in the whole communications field.

Now, I’ve got many more questions I’m asking people, but I hope you understand we are really trying to find those questions and listen to people and think before we ask Congress to act. I do believe in this Congress we will act and we will find solutions to many of these questions.

We want to hear from you – this group of people with very diverse backgrounds and we believe we should listen to you. We’re going to ask you to put together a group of people who represent sort of similar issues – not more than about 18-20 of you, and come up and sit and talk to us some afternoon and just let us listen to your ideas and your comments. It’s not a hearing. We’re not going to believe in hearings. We’re going to try to find ways to dig in and understand these issues before we have bills to present and then we’ll listen to peoples’ views on those bills. But, we should really have a chance to listen.

Conrad Burns is going to be our leader in the communications area. We kept this issue at Full committee for a lot of reasons – Senator Inouye wants to be very much involved in it and I do too, and so many people have such great interest that it’s hard to select members for a subcommittee. So, Senator Inouye and I decided communications would be a Full Committee issue for this Congress. And, we’re all going to be involved and we all welcome your comments, your suggestions, and your interest in what we’re trying to do.

Thank you very much.